Stone Walls by Gerda Walz-Michaels

picture of Gerda Walz-Michaels and family

Photo by Felix Schilling


In a series of exceptionally honest, revealing, emotionally charged poems, we are taken from the joyful though sometimes troubled childhood of a young German girl through difficult trials as an adult and finally on to a balanced life combining writing, family and friends.Joan Seliger Sidney has said this of the book: “In only twenty-two meticulously crafted poems, Gerda Walz-Michaels takes us on a journey through her life, from Hamburg, Germany to Storrs, Connecticut. Unafraid to ask herself hard questions (‘Why do I write down words / if I know they can’t say / what I want to say?’), she answers: ‘Naked in the nightmare of memories / I try to start afresh / like May flowers opening their buds...// I write my words /so that the truth might / reveal itself.’ And it does, as the poet revisits her childhood, tainted by Hitler and also by the death of her bedridden mother when she was nine. In ‘A Borrowed Night’ Walz-Michaels dreams her mother is back ‘after / fifty-five years of silence.’ The two come ‘together again, / completely natural, / giving love and being loved.’ In the end, Stone Walls is a love story, healing the past and making a ‘deep connection / with others, my surroundings, / or even myself.’ It’s a treasure.” And Myra Shapiro adds, “To be balanced, at peace in two worlds, requires connection, and Gerda Walz-Michaels’ poems insist on it. Stone Walls begins and ends with the ocean over which ‘There is a bridge.../ that nobody can destroy.’ In a poem about a beautiful confirmation gift from the poet’s German childhood, we come to her youngest daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. It is the future ‘tasted’ when she ‘steered courageously’ to Brittany years before with her son and daughter. Back and forth we are in the presence of waves rising not in threat but in welcome.”
  Stone Walls by Gerda Walz-Michaels cover image
  Front cover watercolor by Blanche Serban

Gerda Walz-Michaels was born in northern Germany and has traveled widely in Europe, the Near East, Canada and the U.S. She studied English and Pedagogy in Hamburg, became a teacher, married and became the mother of two children. In her midlife she moved to Storrs, Connecticut, where she married a second time and had a third child. She received her M.A. in Judaic Studies and Education and her Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Education at the University of Connecticut. Gerda has taught and lectured at several colleges in Connecticut; and a number of years ago, she founded Gentle Actions, an Institute for Holistic Studies. In 2000 she wrote her first poem, “My Country,” which won first prize at the Windham Area Poetry Festival. In 2011 she published a collection of poetry, The Ocean Carries Me. Gerda lives with her husband in Storrs, Connecticut, and travels regularly to Germany, where her three children and one grandchild live in Berlin, Hamburg and Frankfurt. She also has stepdaughters living in Boston, Massachusetts and Madison, Wisconsin.

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ISBN 978-1-936482-91-7

Copyright © 2015 by Gerda Walz-Michaels

5.5" x 8.5" paperback, 46 pages



Copyright ©2015 by Gerda Walz-Michaels


It took us almost two weeks
to cross the Atlantic.
That was decades ago.
Now we fly from Boston to London in six hours,
eating chicken teriyaki or pink salmon.
The way back home takes one hour longer.
The jet stream plays a role.
Six hours, seven hours, two weeks.
How long did it take Columbus?
Does it matter?
There is always the beautiful blue ocean
when the sun is shining
and the grey black roaring sea in heavy storms.
It separates the people here and there,
not only through its mysterious waters
but through the unspoken gestures and words
swimming in the deep of the sea
or dancing on top of the waves.
Understanding is so different at both shores.
Although time and space are connected
my loved ones have their different lives.
But if I stand on the beach at Cape Cod
I touch the same water
as people in Brighton or Bremen.
There is a bridge over the blue and black ocean
that nobody can destroy.


How old was I
when lying under the tulip tree
in our huge garden,
looking through the leaves into the blue sky?
Not one dark cloud.

How happy was I
when I touched
the pink and white soft flower petals
caressing me back without resistance.
Barely one sad feeling.

How innocent was I
when I smelled the fresh cut green grass;
my young soft body, naked,
greeting each blade with pleasure.
Not one joyless spot.

How young was I
when I tasted the red, thick strawberries
growing in abundance
close to the tulip tree.
Not one bad fruit.

How sad was I
dreaming about my mother,
wishing and praying that
she could be healthy and strong,
lying close to me under the tulip tree.


Dark rich skin,
soft smooth flesh.
Inside, a hard kernel.

Addiction to cherries.
A whole bag
was given me

by a friend who
picked them and
brought them here,

not knowing that a
story of my childhood
would explode in me.

Driving home
from school, my father
and I in the car,

a pound of cherries
between us. We devoured them
one by one, elegantly

spitting the kernels
out the windows.
My father and I were equals then.

When we arrived home
we had eaten them all.
Already full before lunch,

we lied, “We’re hungry” –
an innocent secret,
a bond that bound us.


Why do I write down words
if I know they can’t say
what I want to say?
Why do I write them down
despite the fact that they were
not born here?

I write them down
because they don’t carry the history
of my mother tongue –

the load of a nation
which brought into life
existential thoughts, subtle poetry,
beautiful music,
but also the cruelest war
in history.

Naked in the nightmare of memories
I try to start afresh
like May flowers opening their buds.

Though shy and innocent, nothing
can stop them.

I write my words
so that the truth might
reveal itself.


I dreamed last night that after
fifty-five years of silence
my mother was back.

I felt utmost joy
that she was here
with me. Before,

I never allowed myself
to make room for her,
inside and outside.

It was too painful.
She had left me
too young and too soon.

Now we came together again,
completely natural,
giving love and being loved.

It was a borrowed night.
I knew
she would go again.

Yet in this precious dream
we made up for all the time
separate and alone.


This morning, looking through
the window, I saw
the stone walls leading from

our backyard through the woods
to the next street

We are in New England.
Stone walls are pretty common here.
When I first arrived

I took them for what they were:
stone walls that connect or
separate pieces of land.

Today it was as if I’d discovered them
for the first time, these many stones
piled on top of each other

sometimes sloppily,
sometimes accurately
filling each gap.

My eyes drifted over them,
wandering from one stone
to the next,

embracing precious pieces
of jewelry bound
to one another.

And I thought
of the many stone walls
all over the world

that connect us all.
Let us see and hear them,
one stone next to the other.


Why again the ocean?
This huge body of water
endlessly moving back and forth,

sometimes rough, waves
as high as houses, sometimes
soft and smooth like skin, then

no movement at all,
turquoise and blue
embracing itself and me as well,

inviting me once more
as so many times before, whispering
wordless waves of life and love.